Live Be Yoga ambassadors Jeremy Falk and Aris Seaberg are on a road trip across the country to share real talk with master teachers, explore innovative classes, and so much more—all to illuminate what's in store for the future of yoga. Follow the tour and get the latest stories @livebeyoga on Instagram and Facebook.
Long before she became a certified yoga therapist and highly sought-after yoga teacher, Alison West was an art historian studying human form. This ability to observe anatomy in detail has served her and her mission very well. “I look at the body as a beautiful sculpture with its variations,” says West, founder and director of Yoga Union and Yoga Union Backcare and Scoliosis Center in New York City. Spending 35 years working with yogis with diverse bodies, needs, and injuries, West believes that supporting the body—and most importantly, the spine—through a comprehensive and therapeutic practice is an important aspect of the future of yoga.
Since 1983, West has trained in multiple styles of yoga (Jivamukti, Sivananda, Ashtanga, and Iyengar) around the world with an enviable roster of teachers (T.K.V. Desikachar, Pattabhi Jois, and Eddie Stern). Ultimately, West decided to focus on yoga for back care and open up a studio dedicated to it because it was why most people came to her to practice. As it turns out, she said that back pain is also one of the most common reasons doctors send patients to yoga.
Through deeper studies of the spine with trainers Bobbie Fultz and Elise Miller, West thoroughly examined a variety of back issues and now specializes in herniation, disc bulges, scoliosis, and spinal asymmetry—just to name a few of the conditions she treats. She has since designed her own program based on these studies and the knowledge gained from working with many students throughout the years. Respect for modern kinesiology can blend with the ancient traditions and texts of yoga, West says, so we may continue to understand the original purpose of yoga as we evolve.
With all the traveling, hauling bags, and sleeping in different beds as we launched the Live Be Yoga tour, Jeremy and I were excited to soak up her invaluable wisdom to support us along our journey. So we joined West at her back-care center and asked her to guide us through these 5 simple poses to help alleviate generalized back pain. Her unique method incorporates a dowel into the exercises, as it is a useful tool in elongating the spine and creating stability in the poses.
Note: If you have chronic or acute back issues or injuries, West recommends speaking to a doctor first and scheduling one-on-one sessions with a physical therapist or a yoga therapist (like herself) to ensure you are supporting your back and not exacerbating an issue. It’s always important to listen to your body and do only what feels appropriate and nourishing.
5-to-6-foot dowel rod (you can also substitute a broom), yoga mat, and a chair if sitting on the floor is uncomfortable.
Hold each pose for 3-to-5 breaths, allowing your inhales to expand fully and your exhales to complete.